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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Vote and die, pt II

canvassing for votes?

On Campaign Trail, a Single Shot

Fri Jan 28, 9:15 AM ET

By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post Foreign Service

MOSUL, Iraq (news - web sites) -- The 21-ton Stryker attack vehicles pulled into the neighborhood of al-Whada just after noon. Their rear ramps dropped simultaneously, disgorging dozens of American infantrymen into the cold rain.

The soldiers had multiple tasks on this day. In addition to hunting insurgents and searching houses, they were to help get out the vote for Sunday's national elections. For the next three hours, soldiers armed with assault rifles and election fliers moved warily through al-Whada's muddy streets, trying to get Iraqis to embrace democracy.

The inherent danger of the mission was driven home at 3:30 p.m. A single shot rang out, and 1st Lt. Nainoa K. Hoe, 27, the popular leader of the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment, fell dead in the street.

"Treat him! Treat him!" screamed Staff Sgt. Steve Siglock, one of his closest friends. The shot that killed Hoe on Saturday was followed within seconds by a blizzard of gunfire aimed at his exposed platoon. It was already too late for Hoe, but his men stepped directly into the gunfire in a desperate attempt to save him while fending off the unseen insurgents.

On the campaign trail in Iraq, U.S. troops are almost alone. Violence has kept away the election monitors, international peacekeepers and nongovernmental organizations that normally perform the basic tasks of electioneering in nascent democracies. With not even the candidates out on the streets, the role of getting out the vote has fallen to thousands of infantrymen like Hoe, soldiers who are menaced by the possibility of instant death.


Aside from the troops, the streets were empty.

"The local population, they want to be hospitable, but a lot of times they're either nervous, just due to our very presence or due to the fact that as soon as we show up, several minutes later they're gonna start receiving mortar fire or RPG fire or small-arms fire near their homes" from the insurgents, said the Charlie Company commander, Capt. Rob Born, 30, of Burke, Va.

Born stopped to chat up a butcher hacking up a cow in his carport.

"Are you gonna vote?" Born asked cheerfully.

He handed the man a red-and-white leaflet that showed two Iraqis casting ballots. "One vote is more precious than gold," the leaflet said.

"If it's safe to go, I will. If it's not, I won't," the butcher told him.


The 1st Platoon was to escort two members of a tactical human intelligence team, or THT, to the medical clinic. The 2nd Platoon was to hand off an encryption device to U.S. advisers working with Iraqi troops near a hospital.

At the last minute, however, the orders changed. Hoe was ordered to escort the THT to the clinic.

"Nobody had a problem with it. It was just easier for us to transport the THT guys, so we swapped missions," Siglock recalled. In interviews, he and 15 other soldiers described the events that followed.

Hoe decided to pull up several hundred yards short of the clinic and take only one squad of nine soldiers to avoid frightening the clinic staff. When the men dismounted from the rear of the Stryker, however, the platoon was still a city block away, farther than Hoe had intended.

"Everyone remount," Hoe started to say, according to Thornton, who was still in the vehicle. Then he decided against it. "Nah, [expletive] it, we'll walk."

Hoe joined the formation, the two-man intelligence team behind him. The soldiers began to walk toward the clinic on a street that ran along an open field. On the other side of the field, about 250 yards away, stood a mosque.

The shot rang out from a building near the mosque. Hoe was wearing a bulletproof vest, but the bullet hit him in the exposed crease behind his left shoulder. It traveled through both lungs and punctured his aorta before exiting his body through his right armpit. He died almost instantly, doctors later concluded.

"Ow," Hoe seemed to say as he fell.

"In my opinion, it was an ambush initiated by a sniper," Siglock said. The sniper probably identified Hoe as the platoon leader by his proximity to his radio operator, Pfc. Jerome Roettgers, 23, of Cincinnati, who was trailing Hoe with a two-foot antenna.

As Hoe lay in the street, Siglock relayed the unthinkable to Myers, the platoon sergeant: "2-7, this is 2-1, 2-6 is down."

Hoe's radio call sign was Tiger 2-6.

The message bludgeoned the platoon.

Fire From the Mosque

In the brief moment of shock, at least five insurgents opened up on them. The shots came from across the field; muzzle flashes were seen coming from the tall minaret of the mosque.

The men got Hoe into an alley, which the platoon then sealed off with a Stryker. Myers and the platoon medic, Spec. Rusty "Doc" Mauney, took over. Mauney gave Hoe two quick "rescue breaths" and took his pulse. Hoe had none. Mauney thought he might have missed it because of the noise from the gunfire, but the firing stopped and Hoe's condition was the same.

Hoe was dead, but his men refused to believe it.

They loaded him into the Stryker and drove to the combat support hospital about seven miles away. The 21-ton trucks raced 60 mph through the streets of Mosul, fishtailing around corners, air horns blasting.

Inside the lead vehicle, Mauney frantically performed chest compressions while Myers gave Hoe mouth-to-mouth. "I was covered in his blood," Myers recalled somberly. "We were doing the compressions, and every time there would be something coming out of something and hitting me in the face. There was swelling in his chest area; the blood was pooling up in his chest. We turned him on his side to get the fluid out of his lungs, like you'd do when somebody is drowning. A large volume of blood came out at that point."

"Don't give up!" Myers shouted at Hoe. "Don't you [expletive] quit on me!"

Mauney and Myers helped carry Hoe into the emergency room. A doctor walked over to Myers to see if he too had been wounded. When the doctor learned that Myers was covered in Hoe's blood, he took out a white rag and tenderly wiped off his face, "like I was some kid who had candy all over him," Myers said.

The rest of the platoon gathered in a dirt parking lot that had turned into a swamp. The men were soaked. It was still raining, but no one sat inside the Strykers. Nearly everyone was smoking; they burned the cigarettes to the butt and then used them to light more.

Mauney was still in the operating room when the chief surgeon shook his head and announced, "Time of death: 1602."

Mauney walked outside and smoked. A doctor came out and handed him Hoe's soaked pistol belt. The medic kept thinking about the previous summer. Hoe had been hit by a car while jogging, and Mauney went to his house every day to change his dressing.

"Hey, Doc, I never saw a medic who makes house calls," Hoe's new wife, Emily, teased him. Then she said: "Well, I don't have to worry about him over there with you looking out for him, do I?"

"I was just sitting out there in the rain, holding his pistol belt, and that was going over and over in my mind," Mauney said.

By then, Gibler, the battalion commander, had arrived. He wanted to break the news to the platoon, but Myers insisted that he be the one to do it.

Gibler, Myers and Born, the company commander, walked out into the rain. The platoon was gathered around the Strykers. Some of the soldiers already knew. Some knew but didn't want to believe it.

"Nainoa didn't make it," Myers told them.

'You Caught Your Wave'

The men were crying now, all 40 of them. Born started to speak. "I know how close you all are. . . ." He broke down and turned away.

Myers announced that anyone who wanted to could come inside the hospital and pay their last respects. At first, no one moved. Then slowly the soldiers shuffled forward.

Hoe rested on a gurney in a remote hallway. He was covered by a blanket except for his face.

His men walked slowly around the gurney until they had nearly formed a circle. Then the entire platoon, all 40 men, knelt beside their platoon leader and prayed.

The men rose and moved on. Some reached out and stroked Hoe's cheek. Some leaned over and whispered into his ear.

"Vaya con Dios," said Moreno.

Why are Americans dying to encourage Iraqis to vote? It's their country. Yet, they not only passively watch the guerillas, they run to tell them when we show up. That unit wasn't there five minutes before they got lit up. How many more young men die before we realize how futile this is.

That young officer died handing out election leaflets. Not hunting the enemy, not protecting Iraqis, but telling Iraqis to vote in their own country. I wonder what would have happened if Iraqi cops or guardsmen were asked to do the same. They would have run like their asses were on fire.

Iraq is so dangerous, we have companies of 11B's canvassing for votes.

That, in and of itself, is a sad, sad fact. Losing a good officer makes it just that much sadder and pointless.

posted by Steve @ 12:48:00 AM

12:48:00 AM

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